The pull up is one of the greatest muscle building exercises in existence, which is precisely why it’s been called the upper body squat.
If you’re a man and you suck at them people will laugh at you – I certainly will 😉
A lot of my students & friends in the gym (male & female) ,struggle with this powerful move.
Lat pulldowns can’t even come close to comparing. Whenever you move your body through space the level of neuromuscular activation is dramatically higher.
I mean if you really struggle even on an assisted machine then lat pulldown can help get you started but I found after a long time of lat pulldowns they had actually hindered my pull-ups
People all too often ask, “How much can ya bench?”
A more appropriate question would be “How many pull ups can you do?”
The pull up measures your strength to weight ratio better than almost any other exercise known to man.
For the guys – Don’t Be the Guy Who Can’t Do Pull Ups
I still get troubled by the images I see of young/middle-aged men in the gym & local parks who proceed to twist & squirm for the next 15 seconds as they attempt to do ONE pull up & of the people who do half pull ups. Where they just slightly flex their elbows 10 times & claim that they have done a set of 10 – to you people I shake my head.
“Hey girls check out, I cant do a single pull up”
“Hey dudes, look how strong I am”
A real man can do pull ups. It’s as simple as that!
Below are the top 10 ways to improve your pull ups.
1) Don’t go to Failure
This is the biggest mistake you can make with pull ups.
As soon as a single rep does not look exactly like the previous one and you can’t get as high, the set is over.
If your speed slows down noticeably the set is over.
You would never continue a set of squats if you could no longer lock out the weight. If you got all the way up on rep five but were only able to get up ¾ of the way on rep six you wouldn’t proceed to do four more reps of partials until the set ended with the weight crashing down on you and crippling you.
But that’s exactly how people finish their sets of pull ups. The form gets worse and worse and worse, and they keep going and going and going, climbing up the invisible ladder, swinging and kipping.
When you do this you get no stronger. And most of the time you get weaker. The negative effect of training to failure is seen more on chin ups than any other exercise. No one knows why this is, but trust me, that’s how it is.
2) Lose Excess Body Fat
If you are carrying excess body fat your ability to do pull ups will be greatly reduced. Extra body fat is good for lifting more weight in certain exercises like deadift & squats that require greater leverage. But that’s all it’s good for. Other than that it’s unhealthy and unsightly.
3) Start in the Proper Position
All too often people start in the dead hang position with their scapula elevated and their shoulders touching their ears. This is dangerous and incorrect.
When you do this all of the tension is placed on your tendons and ligaments instead of your muscles.
When you get on the bar you want to pull your shoulder blades down and lock your shoulders into their sockets. This is a far safer position and ensures that the stress will be placed directly on the muscles and not the tendons and ligaments.
4) Maintain a Slight Elbow Bend Throughout the Set
This goes hand in hand with the above tip. Before starting your set you want to bend your elbows ever so slightly.
This bend should barely be noticeable, but it will have a huge impact on your elbow health.
Do not start with your elbows completely locked. This, again, places all of the stress on the tendons and ligaments instead of on the muscles. On each successive rep you should lower yourself until your arms are nearly straight, stopping just shy of lockout.
I know this is hard as it is a matter that I often used to struggle with & it really fatigues your body for the remaining reps the more you hang straight.
But don’t use this as an excuse to cheat. Just shy of lockout means that your elbows are “99% locked out;” you just don’t want that complete extension.
5) Initiate With the Lats
Unless you are doing chin ups as a back exercise (which is an awesome arm exercise). But a chin up is different to a pull up.
So when you start to pull, be sure that you fire your lats first; not your biceps. If you have trouble feeling your lats, as many newbies do, have someone poke or slap your lats a few times before you start pulling. Even having a partner keep his hands in contact with your lats throughout the set may help. It may also look a little strange to other members of your gym.
6) Drive Your Elbows Down
To get the most out of your lats when you chin you should think about driving your elbows down and back to receive the maximum contraction on your lats. Don’t simply pull with your biceps.
7) Pull Your Chin Over the Bar
Try to instruct beginners pull their chest up to the bar, Even if you know full well that they won’t be able to, it will at least instil the importance of getting high.
You really only need your chin to clear the bar. The pull up should be used to target the lats, first and foremost. Don’t waste energy struggling with that last few inches at the top. Get your chin over while keeping your back arched and then lower yourself.
Use other rowing exercises to target those smaller upper back muscles and use the pul up to smoke your lats completely.
8) Use a Variety of Grips
There are countless ways to pull your body up. You can do chin ups with your palms facing you at a number of different grip widths.
You can also do chin ups with your palms facing each other, or pull ups with your palms facing away at multiple grip widths. You can pull up on bars, rings, Fat Gripz, ropes, towels, suspension straps, beams, Eagle Loops, and even baseballs or softballs hanging from a chain.
The variations are endless. Using different grips on ANY exercise helps stimulate new muscle growth. & keeps progression moving. Use as many different chin ups as possible to avoid burnout or overuse injuries.
9) Use a Variety of Rep Ranges
To do a lot of pull ups you need strength and you need endurance.
Strength is built with low reps. You can do low reps with a weighted vest or dip belt or you can simply perform more difficult variations of pull ups.
Endurance is built with high reps. This is where the use of bands comes in handy.
Having a few different levels of band tension will allow you to vary your rep range greatly. This will help you boost your chin up numbers a lot faster.
Some days you train in the range of 3-6 reps for maximal strength. Some day you train in the range of 7-12, and others you train in the range of 15-30, with a band, to improve your endurance.
10) Strengthen Your Grip
This is a very over looked point. he stronger your grip is the easier pull ups will feel. I suggest getting a Captains of Crush or heavy hand Grippers and using it a few times per week. You can also add in some more specific grip work at the gym like fat bar holds, hexagon dumbbell holds, Farmers walks as well as various pinching and crushing exercises. Investing in a pair of ‘Fat Gripz’ and using them for a large majority of your exercises will help a lot as well as using the ‘hook grip’
A huge idol of mine in the fitness world called Vince Gironda was the master of pull-ups. Look up his technique or if you comment below I will post a blog on how to perform his style of chin-ups!
Start using these top 10 ways to improve your pull ups today & let me know below how they’re working out for you.